Is it too hot to work?
Recent weeks have seen temperatures soar to above 30ºc across parts of England. As the climate crisis worsens, higher temperatures are set to strike the country earlier and earlier in the year, raising the question of just when does it become too hot to work?
While there's no set law in place around the maximum temperature in which it is safe to work, the Health and Safety Executive – known commonly as the HSE - the UK's workplace regulator, has released guidance advising employers to take action to protect their workers during periods of extreme heat this summer.
Despite the lack of a legal maximum temperature for workplaces, the HSE is asking employers to be responsible and prioritise the health and safety of their employees. This comes in response to the high temperatures last summer when the HSE witnessed a surge in people seeking advice on hot weather working guidance.
In 2022, the number of concerns relating to hot weather nearly doubled when temperatures in the country exceeded 40°C for the first time in history. This alarming trend of sweltering summers indicates the need for employers to address the risks associated with extreme heat.
How to keep cool during a heatwave
The HSE emphasises that everyone - whether working indoors or outdoors - is at risk during heatwaves. To mitigate these risks, employers should discuss them with their workers and implement simple measures. They highlight that these measures needn't break the bank.
Some of these measures include ensuring that workplace windows can be opened or closed to regulate air circulation, using blinds or reflective film to shade workers from the sun, and positioning desks and workspaces away from direct sunlight and heat sources. In addition, employers can provide insulation around hot pipes and machinery.
We can also look to our European neighbours, where extreme heat during the summer months has been the norm for decades, for ideas. For instance, the Spanish government have recently announced that they will be banning outdoor work during heatwaves.
Although an outright ban on outdoor work during summer months may not yet be on the cards in the UK, employers can offer flexible working patterns so that employees can work during cooler times of the day.
Furthermore, companies could consider introducing a relaxing dress code if possible and providing weather-appropriate personal protective equipment. Encouraging workers to remove their PPE during rest periods in shaded areas can help them cool off and prevent heat stress.
Last summer should have served as a wake-up call for all employers. As climate change continues, hotter summers are expected, which will undoubtedly impact the workforce across multiple industries. Sensible and supportive employers should start planning and implementing practical measures to protect their workers from extreme heat.